Tanya Clark

I am an active, healthy mother of three beautiful children ages 8 months to 4 years (that's where a lot of the active part comes in!). On September 21, 2009 my whole life was changed by an infection that I'd never even heard of. I'd gone on an organizing spree in my house - closets that hadn't been touched in years were being emptied and I was gathering all of my junk for a yard sale in October when my town closes down for their annual Fall Foliage Festival. On September 19th, I woke up with what I thought was a pulled muscle in my groin - right side. I had no idea what I'd done to it, but wasn't completely surprised to wake up the next day with a bruise. Walking became very painful that day and the bruise had grown. On the 21st, I contemplated all day long whether or not I needed to see a doctor and when my step-father (a physicians assistant) looked at it and said "get your ass to the hospital and pack your bags, you're going to have to stay a while", I still didn't really think it was anything real serious. Daddy Dan saved my life because if I'd waited another 24 hours, they say I wouldn't have made it. Eight hours in the ER later, I was admitted to ICU and after only about an hour, I was rushed to Robert Packar Hospital in PA (I live in the Southern Tier of NY) on the orders of a doctor I wasn't completely confident with. I could tell that he could barely understand what I was saying to him and his bedside manner was terrible. But the ambulance crew swept me away before I could put up much of a fight. The ride down was terrifying and each and every bump in the road was more painful than anything I'd ever experienced. My fever spiked to 106.4. I still had no idea what was wrong with me, but I knew that whatever it was, was serious. When I got to the hospital, I remember the pity in everyone's eyes, but was still completely oblivious to what was happening. I figured "ok, they'll do their little surgery and everything will be better". It was then 1:30 in the morning on the 22nd and they wanted to call my family to let them know I was going to surgery. I refused to allow it - I didn't know what was going on, but I was a 30 year old woman and I was not going to allow them to wake up my entire family to let them know I was going in to surgery. I knew that they'd all drive for hours to get there on little sleep and I just didn't see the need for that. Things get fuzzy for me from here...I remember waking up from a second surgery sometime that afternoon and having my father sobbing at my bedside and telling him "Dad - I'm fine...the doctors are on top of this and I'm awake and talking to you!". The doctor then came in and explained to me what I had. Flesh Eating Bacteria...seriously? It was obvious by the name that it was serious to me, but again I was convinced that everything was fine because I was alive. I looked at a leg that I didn't recognize - no skin, just blood and muscle. It looked just like the pictures of raw muscle that you see in books or on posters at the doctor's office. I don't remember much about the next two days. I remember my mother being there once and I vaguely remember my significant other being there when the ambulance crew came to transport me to Strong Memorial Hospital. The ride there was even more painful than the first ride, pain I never could have imagined. When I arrived at Strong, terror actually set in. I'd been through four surgeries and knew that it wasn't over. They gave me a day off from surgery and on the 25th, I went in for another embitterment (the removal of the eaten or infected tissue) and this time they put a vacuum sealed dressing on. The seal wasn't successful for very long because of the area it was in. My leg had been taken right down to the muscle from my groin to my knee and all the way around. A few days later, I went in for skin grafting and I woke up with both legs wrapped and stapled and in more pain than ever. Moving even a little hurt everywhere. The day I got out of bed to walk was an amazing feeling of achievement for me. At the same time, I was saddened by the fact that at 30 years old, I was excited that I was able to walk about 12 feet. I worked with physical therapy to walk with the use of a walker for the next four days and was discharged on October 12th thinking I'd go home and heal and in a couple of weeks everything, with the exception of the way my skin looked, would be back to normal. My homecoming was the most emotional day of my entire life, which is saying a LOT, considering I've had three children. I'd talked to my kids on the phone every day, usually a couple of times a day, but I didn't want them seeing me hooked to machines stuck in a hospital bed. Not to mention the fact that hospitals are infested with all sorts of yuckiness. We'd decided that it was best that they just stay home and wait for Mommy to get back. When I opened the car door to labor myself out of it, I looked up and saw the two most beautiful little smiling faces more than eager to get their hugs and kisses that they'd been yearning for for weeks! The sound of their little voices yelling "MOMMY, MOMMY" over and over was like angels singing and I have never been so consumed with love than I was in that moment. I realized then and there that the millions of prayers sent by me and on my behalf may have saved my life, but it was my children that gave me the strength to begin the healing process. I was getting around the house fairly well and after only two days, I put the walker in the corner and limped around. I had a nurse coming twice a week to look at the wounds and was changing dressings every day. While I didn't walk around in skirts or short shorts, the sight of my legs made me sick and shower time was when I took advantage of crying woe is me. I sobbed every time I looked at my legs. I sobbed at the way they looked, at the fact that this was happening to me, at the fact that I almost lost my life and my kids almost lost their mother...I sobbed because I really didn't feel I had any right to be sobbing given the fact that the Lord decided it wasn't my time. Two weeks and one day later, I went back to the ER with severe swelling and redness in the lower half of my right leg. I was transported back to Strong, fearing the whole way that the infection was back and again not being told a whole lot about anything. If there's anything I could say I disliked the most about being hospitalized, it's that answers are pretty hard to come by. Don't get me wrong, I get it...nurses aren't allowed to tell you things that the doctors should and the people running the machines aren't entitled to give their opinions because they're not "qualified" enough. But I wonder if the people who made these rules were ever in my position. I'd be willing to bet that if they were, those rules would have been different! Anyway, it ended up being cellulitous and it lended a hand in making walking harder than it was two weeks ago. I felt like my ankle was broken. Standing up sent a shock down my leg for a minute or two and the pain was worse than the pain at the top of my leg at this point. I was discharged Halloween morning with stockings for that leg and told to keep it elevated. I spent six whole days on my couch feeling sorry for myself. I'd taken two steps forward and five steps back and I just couldn't wrap my head around the whole ordeal. I had to go for a follow-up on the sixth day and left feeling angry that there wasn't any medicine that could fix this all. I've slowly picked up the pieces and am happy to report that I'm on the mend. I work with physical therapy twice a week to get range of motion and strength back. I'm now driving again (WOOO HOOO!) and walking is starting to look "normal" again. It's been two months to the day since this has all started and I'm spending the first day alone, without help, taking care of my kids as my significant other has taken a day off from caring for three children and myself to go hunting. I'm thankful for my friends and family and VERY thankful that I'm alive to tell my story!